Today we are spotlighting one of our Travel With Purpose hosts and service partner, Women Entrepreneurs & Leaders (WEL), a non-profit (NGO) organization based in Côte d’Ivoire dedicated to creating a world where women can live free from poverty, violence and inequality. Through grassroots efforts, WEL builds the skills of hundreds of women and girls so together the story and the stereotypes surrounding women's abilities are changed for the good.
Madame (Mme) Kouadio, Co-founder and President of WEL explains how the idea for her organization was born. “During my adolescence, I noticed that women are fragilized (easily broken or destroyed) in their family home because of lack of means,” she continued, “my own auntie - a mother of 10 children - suffered in her marriage, frequently beaten by her husband and when he did not give her money to cook for the family, she and her children would stay hungry.” Mme Kouadio’s own mother helped the family as she could, however, this was not enough to ensure the children could attend school, which in Côte d’Ivoire can mean the difference between jobs and housing, or homelessness.
In addition to this formative memory, Mme Kouadio began her professional journey working with a non-profit fighting against HIV AIDS. “In poor communities and rural areas, women are incredibly vulnerable – the most affected and impacted by HIV AIDS. And most of the time they have no support for the education of their children,” explained Mdm. Kouadio.
“Why? Why women?” Mme Kouadio would ask herself, “Why are women so far behind? Are women aware of their potential?”
Studying women’s issues a few years ago, Mme Kouadio discovered some grim statistics:
Women and girls make up 70% of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty
Some young girls still can’t access education in Africa
16% of the world’s population is illiterate, of which two-thirds are women and girls
During armed conflict, out of 40 million refugees, 75% are women and children
In sub-Saharan Africa, 61% of people living with HIV are women
Each year, approximately 22 million unsafe abortions occur when women are sexually abused
Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth
Active since 2016, WEL strives to empower the next generation of women leaders by focusing on Leadership, Excellence and Innovation – teaching economic independence and leadership, as well as programs related to agriculture, green environments, health (HIV and pregnancy), technology, and digital solutions.
“My vision for the future is a new generation of young female leaders, aware of their potential, who contribute to a world where women are free from poverty, and one Africa where we have no gender inequalities – where women are equals in making decisions,” said Mme Kouadio.
Mme Kouadio’s experience and vision provided her the opportunity to become part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a U.S. – African merit-based program for young African leaders. In 2017, she was selected among 18,000 applicants from all over sub-Saharan Africa to take part. Held at Appalachian State University, N.C., the six-week Leadership Institute offered a host of academic sessions, professional networking, leadership training, community service and cultural activities.
Mme Kouadio has a Master’s Degree in Organizations Management and is driven by her passion to assist vulnerable populations and create awareness among women about their potential to positively impact their community. Inspired by black American women including Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, Mme Kouadio has over 10 years’ experience in development projects and United States Government (USG) Funds grants management. In addition to her work with WEL NGO, she is the Grants Manager of international NGO Health Alliance International (HAI). She resides in Cote d’Ivoire with her husband and infant son.
“Go girls! Aim FAR, raise your standards. Make your dreams come true!” Mme Kouadio and WEL say, “Be the next generation of leaders!